“Leadership through action.” That phrase resonates for me profoundly as an assistant principal in the Connecticut Technical High School System (CTHSS). Other important related phrases might include “leadership by example,” “leadership through innovation,” or “leadership through creation.” But no matter how one coins the phrase, the message remains the same: Strong leaders are people of action, who set good examples for those around them, think creatively, and inspire innovation. These qualities are important across the board – from Fortune 500 companies all the way to small local businesses and mom and pop shops – the size, net worth, mission or prestige of an institution is irrelevant when it comes to factoring its need for good leadership. John Quincy Adams spoke about leadership in terms of inspiration, and that’s how I see leadership every day in the CTHSS; from students, teachers, pupil personnel, and our administrative team, leadership shines through what we do, who we are, and what we represent.
Leadership is so important in CTE because it’s inherent in our mission and our purpose. We prepare students to be both college and career ready, while at the same time we make sure they are proficient in trade specific skills and competencies to ensure they are viable candidates for field employment immediately after high school. Beyond that, we teach students about employability skills like workplace ethics, professionalism, confidentiality, punctuality, organization, interpersonal communication, reflective practices, and yes, leadership. It is profoundly important that our students understand not only how to conduct themselves in the workplace and how to be “good” at their jobs, but also how to be strong leaders in their place of work and in their communities. Unlike most traditional high schools, technical high schools have the responsibility of preparing students dually for college and/or careers, and the majority of our student body enters directly into the latter after graduation. If they don’t know how to be leaders and how to inspire those around them, then we have not fully met their needs.
Moreover, students in CTE fields have more responsibility in their school day than most other students. CTE students are responsible for OSHA and safety training, for handling expensive and dangerous equipment and machinery, for completing projects against industry standards, and for meeting the transient and progressive demands of our ever growing workforce; our students need to be responsible leaders at young ages in order to be entrusted with these responsibilities, and our teachers are the ones who form our students into leaders by setting good examples, being inspirational, and finding innovative ways to teach curricula to build competency.
Our students are capable of so much at such young ages. I have the honor of seeing high school aged students perform incredible feats each and every day. I have the privilege of being a “customer” to many of these students who are practicing their skills, and I get to watch them grow and lead with confidence and enthusiasm. Our students and teachers inspire those around them, myself included, to dream more, do more, learn more, and become more. To me, that makes them the best type of leaders there are.
Submitted by: Jayme Beckham, Assistant Principal at Henry Abbott Technical High School in Danbury, CT